One of the most celebrated Ayurvedic herbs is Pippali, renowned for its benefits for the lungs but valuable in many other capacities too. Literature on Pippali can be found in both classical texts and contemporary peer reviewed journals. Pippali can be used in four capacities—as a culinary spice of rare distinction, as a home remedy, as a powerful medicinal herb and as a catalyst to potentiate the action of other herbs and drugs.
Pippali (piper longum) is indigenous to north-eastern and southern India and Sri Lanka. But it is cultivated throughout India, especially in Bengal. A very similar plant is found in Indonesia. A member of the family piperacae, Pippali is a perennial aromatic shrub. The flowers of Pippali grow in spikes, which are harvested and dried to form the Long Pepper. The root, Pippali Moola, is also a valuable herb widely mentioned in classical texts. It is important to note that, unlike cayenne pepper, and despite common misunderstanding, Pippali is not in the nightshade family and is perfectly acceptable to those who are unable to tolerate nightshades.
Pippali has as pungent rasa and sweet vipak. Its virya is anushnashita—neither hot nor cold, a fact the renders it invaluable for pitta. It contains volatile oil, alkaloids piperin and piperlonguminine, terpenoids and N-isobutyl deca-trans-2-trans-4-dienamide, a waxy alkaloid.
Pippali regulates sroto—agni of pranavahasrotas, the respiratory tract. It acts as a bronchodilator, decongestant, expectorant, and lung rejuvenative. In annavahasrotas, the digestive tract, it also has powerful actions as carminative and deepan (agni kindler). Pippali kindles bhutagni in the liver, improving liver function, and is a metabolic stimulant, aiding the thermogenic response by increasing the level of thyroid hormone.
As a culinary spice, Pippali has been celebrated for its unique combination of pungent and sweet. It was an essential ingredient in Roman cooking and is used to this day in the cuisine of Morocco and Ethiopia, where it is an ingredient in berebere, a masala mix. Although its use in Indian cuisine has been replaced by the much harsher cayenne pepper introduced by the Portuguese, it is still used in certain traditional pickles.
Several researches have shown immunostimulatory and antigiardial effects of Pippali and it is effective against entamoeba hystolytica.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Phytomedicine shows that Pippali inhibits liver fibrosis in animal studies. This provides support for the traditional use of Pippali in alcoholic liver disease and chronic hepatitis.
This spice’s anti-inflammatory and analgaesic effects may be equal to that of Ibuprofen, according to one animal study.
Another study demonstrated that Pippali is a useful anti-cancer agent. “These results indicate the potential use of spices as anti-cancer agents as well as anti-tumour promoters.”
As a home remedy, Pippali should be in every winter medicine cabinet. As always, choice of anupan will determine which aspect of the action of Pippali will predominate.
- A pinch of Pippali in aloe vera gel will immediately relieve bronchospasm in an episode of bronchitis or severe cough.
- The same recipe can also be used before meals to help with intolerance to fats.
- In asthma, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed in a teaspoon of honey and taken three times daily after meals.
- For hyperacidity, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed with a half teaspoon of rock candy and a half cup of room temperature milk.
- A pinch of Pippali with a teaspoon of crushed rock candy is a good home remedy for hoarseness of the voice.
- To enhance prana, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed in ghee and taken in the morning.
- As a rejuvenative home remedy in chronic fatigue, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be taken daily with gritamadhu (a combination of ghee and honey) .
- As a carminative, a quarter teaspoon Pippali can be combined with a pinch of hing and a teaspoon of ghee and taken after meals.
- In haemorrhoids, make a Pippali yoghurt drink. Combine two tablespoons of yoghurt, a cup of pure water and a pinch of Pippali, blend together and drink after lunch and dinner.
- In obesity, combine a pinch of Pippali with a teaspoon of honey and drink in the mornings followed by hot water, for enhanced thyroid function and fat burning.
- In chronic cough, asthma and low agni, Pippali milk can be used. Make a medicated milk by adding a quarter cup of water to a cup of milk. Add a pinch of Pippali and cook back down to one cup.
- Pippali is safe to use in pregnancy in small amounts. For asthma in pregnancy, a small amount of Pippali can be taken, mixed in ghee. A medicated ghee can also be made with Pippali, cooking a decoction of Pippali into ghee until all the water is absorbed. This is an excellent remedy for healing lungs that have been damaged by smoking.
- As a medicinal herb, Pippali can be used to heal and rejuvenate pranavahasrotas. It is an excellent addition to any spring rejuvenative formula. As a powerful herb, it should be used in smaller proportions in the formula. It combines well with Punarnava in formulas for pranavahasrotas (respiratory conditions), with Shankhapushpi for chronic liver disease, with Ashwagandha in fatigue conditions and with Guggulu in rheumatoid arthritis. It is also of value in anti-parasitical formulas.
If both health and taste are on your mind, then Pippali can be a good replacement for black pepper. Pippali as a spice and medicine counts for many healthy benefits, and brings a special flavouring to the palate. Of course, that does not mean black pepper get de-vauled. Every spice is special. But Pippali has proven effective against so many common ailments that this can be enjoyed as a tasty addition to everyday food and a healthier one to the diet !
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